Aventis are stories told by youths in Barcelona to amuse each other. They
can be considered an oral version of our Pulp Fiction in that they combine
important historical figures, familiar neighborhood characters, superheroes,
fantasy, lurid sex and violence, and so forth.
At least that's what it says on
the DVD box.
This film is about some kids who experienced sensational events
in the Spanish Civil War and made them even more sensational by turning them
Much of the film takes place in the 1930s, but the framing story takes
place around 1970, when two corpses turn up in the city morgue and the coroner
and his head nurse remember the two people from their own childhood days.
Those recollections primarily take the form of long, lascivious, and colorful
yarns narrated by the hard-drinking doctor.
In other words, the action seen by the audience represents a middle-aged
man telling an aventi about the aventis he used to tell as a boy. The
narration is rendered even more unreliable by the fact that the doctor seems
to be emotionally unstable, drunk, and more than a little cuckoo. It is thus
impossible to tell how much of his story is historical, how much simply
represents the misunderstandings or fabrications of his youth, how much is
legend or misremembered legend, and how much the doctor is ad libbing in order
to shock the old nun for his own depraved amusement. To make matters worse,
three of the women pictured in his recollections are played by the same
actress, Victoria Abril. That casting decision leaves the audience baffled
throughout most of the film. Are they supposed to be the same woman using
different identities to hide from the fascists? Are they really three
different women? If the latter, what is the symbolic point made by casting the
same actress in all three parts? Is it to show how our memories tend to run
everything together? Is it to show how the average woman and the prostitute
are really similar people placed in different situations?
Frankly, I have no idea what the correct answers might be for those
questions. I don't even know if those are the right questions, because this is
one of the more opaque movies I've ever watched. It's possible to understand
what's happening in certain scenes, but even when that happens it's not
possible to know whether the action being portrayed is merely a fictional story
concocted by the boys in the 1930s, or perhaps a fictional story made up in
extemporaneous recollection by the coroner. Beyond that, it is virtually
impossible to determine how the scenes are supposed to fit together, and even
if one contemplates that at length and gets a fairly good handle on it, it is
even more difficult to determine what it is all supposed to mean and why the
film was made in the first place.
The film concludes in Barcelona in 1989, with two of the minor characters
making a reunion in which they speculate about Marcos (a young Antonio
Banderas), a legendary anarchist who supposedly hid from the authorities for
years. The old comrades finally conclude that Marcos died long ago, but a
final shot in the city square shows an old couple of street beggars, and they
seem to be Marcos and his lover (one of the many Victoria Abrils).
Variety's reviewer hit the nail right on the
head when he wrote, "Those with the patience to see this film two or three times, or read the
novel by Juan Marsé upon which it is based, may understand its
convoluted plot. Ordinary film goers will be hard-pressed to make any sense
out of out what they see on the screen."
There's good news for you if you are one of those rare discriminating
viewers willing to make the required effort. You can pick up a DVD for less
than a dollar at the Amazon marketplace.